Posts Tagged ‘Guillermo del Toro’

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HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

September 5, 2008

Hellboy II Review

Matt:
Adam:

Length: 120min

Taglines:
Saving the world is a hell of a job.
Good never looked so bad.
Believe it or not – he’s the good guy.
From the visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Précis: Lighthearted action fantasy about a grumpy hellspawn and his mutant friends, battling to save humanity from a magical evil threat.

Review by Matt:

There’s a big red demon, a looming threat to humanity, and scary gun-toting freaks all around. Is it the 2008 Republican Convention? No, it’s Hellboy 2, the new film written and directed by much-admired Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro. He’s dropped the nightmarish atmosphere that characterised his recent films. Hellboy 2 is a fluffy action/fantasy flick about FBI-employed mutants saving the world from a mythological army of death robots.

Ron Perlman is Hellboy, a macho, half-human hellspawn who is a bit like a bigger, redder Han Solo. He’s out to save humanity from the villainous Elf Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss, who has already endangered humanity once, as part of the awesomely rubbish 80’s band, Bros). Hellboy is helped by key team mates: his pyro-kinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), and a psychic creature called Abe (Doug Jones), who has an uncanny resemblance to C3PO in a fish suit. Further assistance comes from a German ectoplasmic spirit called Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane, emulating Klaus from American Dad) and the beleaguered human minder of the group, Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambour, who is wasted in this excisable role).

Robots, monsters, Bros. It might sound great to you. But be clear about what you’re getting here, because Hellboy 2 won’t be for everyone. There are things to enjoy. Most noticeably, the film has a hammy likeability, unselfconsciously displayed in Arnie-like one liners and other silly, sometimes funny, dialogue. It also sports an impressive visual style; Del Toro has a talent for composition, and a rich imagination. You get a sometimes crazy mesh of towering monsters and flashy fights, and even a liberal promotion of interspecies marriage (there goes the Republican Convention comparison). You have to admit that in some respects, this is a film that has got it going on.

But the film’s bad side soon engulfs the positives. Hellboy 2 just lacks the qualities to make us invest in its story. The plot is recycled, rushed and disjointed. In some places it is jarringly sloppy. Behind the characters’ striking appearances, they are truly shallow, and most of the acting is accordingly stilted. The romances and conflicts are annoyingly clichéd, and may as well have been left out. The more it goes on, the more it feels over-busy and self-indulgent, as if Del Toro was obsessed only with his scattered ideas and ingenious style.

When even Guillermo Del Toro’s fantastical style starts to appear decidedly undazzling, you know there is something missing. I am an enthusiast of monsters, robots and other curiousities. But Hellboy 2 is a reminder that you’ve got to put them in the right vehicle before you have a winning film.

Review by Adam:

I didn’t even know this movie was coming out until I saw it previewed at The Dark Knight. My company immediately complained about how lame it looked. From that moment I was convinced that this would be awesome, and it kinda is. I was hanging to see this movie and at the end of a busy weekend. I even ended up dodging a dinner invitation with a visiting foreign celebrity so that I could see it with an old flatmate.

So the story doesn’t really pick up from the first movie. There is no reference to the previous happenings, or to the fate of the previous human agent assigned to Hellboy. Maybe he just died of an obscure disease.

The plot happens all very quickly and you’re guaranteed to think that it went from the first instance of slaughter to the final battle with very few events in between. The beauty of the film is in the characters, or better put, the creatures. If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth you’ll know the beautifully creative mind of Guillermo Del Toro. This film gives him plenty of opportunities to showcase that. Kind of like that Tatooine bar scene in Star Wars Episode 4 (you know, the one where that dude tells Luke what all of us are thinking – “I don’t like you” – and then Obi Wan sabres him). It’s also nice to see that not everything these days is computer generated and some nice work has gone into the costumes.

Despite the supernatural realms and the whole threat of total destruction of humanity, this film is pretty light on. It never seems to take itself too seriously, and that’s a strength. The love stories are hammed up in all the right places (including one unforgettable sing-a-long) and only at a few moments are a bit over the top. The theme to the love story is that the destruction of the earth is fine, just as long as you are with the one you love. Easy to say if you have super-awesome mutant powers I guess…

Basically, go and see Hellboy 2 if you want something light. Don’t expect much and you’ll be delighted with a film that is entertaining, funny, sometimes beautiful, and has guns and big red dudes. Apparently there is another one planned – I can’t wait.

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THE ORPHANAGE (EL ORFANATO) (2008)

June 8, 2008

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 105 min

Tagline:
A tale of love. A story of horror.

Précis: Terrifying and stylish thriller about supernatural happenings at an ex-orphanage.

Review by Matt:

People in horror movies should watch more horror movies. Then perhaps they wouldn’t do things like walk out into the eerie darkness when they know that supernatural happenings have been going down. The folks in The Orphanage, a new highly-regarded Spanish thriller, aren’t immune to this horror film folly. Idiots! I hissed at them from between my hands. Now we’re all going to hit the roof again! The film also sports many other horror standards – like the sudden, shrieking startle trick, or the weird Jungian ‘icons of fear’ (creepy kids, darkness, disfigurement, masks etc). But The Orphanage is still of a much higher quality than your standard horror film. Not only is it tense and chilling, it also skilfully connects with us on a deeper emotional level.

The horror elements of the story fit fairly neatly into your typical ‘haunted house’ scenario. In this case the  culprit is an old orphanage, filled with painful memories. Spanish actress Belén Rueda gives a strong performance as the harried orphan mother Laura, whose seven-year-old adopted son Simón (world’s cutest boy, Roger Príncep) apparently becomes the favourite of the house’s ghostly inhabitants. Or is it all imagined? Either way, the happenings send Laura off on a pretty freaky journey to untangle a history of secrets. The film evokes a genuine mood of sadness and loss, as well as sets up an ambiguous reality and an intense psychological unease. It’s not all just bumps in the night.

But, oh my nerves, the bumps in the night that we do endure are spine-tingling. Literally – the tense atmosphere and nightmarish episodes had my spine vibrating like a guitar string. The Orphanage is a film that knows what scares us, and also how to make something scare us.  It even infuses the landscape with mystery (a bit like Picnic at Hanging Rock) and transforms little kids into menacing enfant terribles (a task that horror film history proves is not so hard). After suffering the brooding darkness, the inexplicable happenings, and the mysterious old shovel-toting women, I was even starting to be unnerved by that stupid orphanage’s squeaky see-saw. The Orphanage could probably ease up on the cheater’s scare – the SUDDEN LOUD STARTLE trick (make sure there’s a good distance between you and the roof). But it balances this by letting a good deal of suspense stew slowly in our imaginations. The scenes where we watch a night vision video-feed-in of a seer creeping through the mansion are the height of tension.

You can hardly miss The Orphanages boast that its producer is Spain’s darling director Guillermo del Toro (of Pan’s Labyrinth fame). He does not direct the film though – that job is handled by underling Juan Antonio Bayona. He’s got the style going on – it’s all slow, still camera work, and you better be able to hold your breath for a long time. Bayona’s music video background pokes its unwanted head in occasionally when the score swells a bit too intrusively, but he still preserves a serious mood throughout, far from the laughable horror-hysteria that infects many films of the genre.

There are decent rewards to be gained from this film, primarily in its thrills and top-notch visual style. The story is also mysterious, moving, and comparatively mature. But a few “how did that work?” moments can only be answered with the dissatisfying answer “must’ve been the supernatural”. Accept this supernatural vagueness, and the story is mostly acceptable. Get into the details and you might long for better explanations. All that aside, it simply may not be your thing to brave a film that is so viscerally and psychologically scary; though The Orphanage is a great pick if you want this experience. If it is already your type of thing, then get ye to the orphanage.